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McLuhan and Symbolist Communication

The Shock of Dislocation


Andrea Lombardinilo

With an interview with Derrick de Kerckhove.

Symbolism as a parataxis, as a «jazz of the intellect»: this is the starting point of this research, inspired by a socio-literary interpretation of Marshall McLuhan’s mediology and developed from a diachronic and exegetic perspective. According to the Canadian sociologist, the footsteps that led to this electric era can be traced through the study of certain writers and poets, whose symbolism provides a number of sociological hints foreshadowing our media modernity. This book aims to investigate the role of symbolism in McLuhan’s sociological research, by outlining how the study of memory and the analysis of literary tradition are fundamental to understanding the complex development of communication and cultural studies. The research presented here focuses on the function of symbols as interpretative keys for the study of media carried out by McLuhan. It is exactly in this artistic movement that the sociologist finds the opportunity to analyse the representative practices (irrational and linear) of modern men, shaped by the reticular patterns of the mind. From this perspective, McLuhan identifies the creative process that lies at the root of symbolist poetry, identified as «a disposition, a parataxis, of components that draws a particular intuition through precise links, but without a point of view, that is a linear connection or sequential order».

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Chapter 6: Vico and the typographic university: The knowledge of symbols


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Vico and the typographic university: The knowledge of symbols


This chapter explores McLuhan’s idea of ‘university’ and his debt to Giambattista Vico. McLuhan is aware of Vico’s importance in the definition of historical recourses. McLuhan’s vision of university as ‘a market square’ inherits the criticism of cognitive fragmentation stated by Vico, compatible with the innovative shifts caused by technological progress, both in science and in communication. Vico’s reflections may be interpreted as anti-university criticism, pivoted on the cultural role of non-university institutions and inspired by the functional delay of universities, hindered by the functional speedup of modern times. The disciplinary fragmentation of the typographic university is only one of the possible connections with the digitalized universities of our time, involved in the ambitious mission of effectiveness and economic accountability. What happens today shows a further development in the dialectics between society, technology, and communication, already described by McLuhan in the sixties, when he referred to the university as a market place faced with the sudden openness of educational paths.

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